Poots accepts legal point, claims Bryson, in move which may halt all NI port inspections
The blogger, speaking on behalf of the Unionist Voice Policy Studies (UVPS) group, served a pre-action letter to Mr Poots in December, claiming that because the DUP minister did not secure the wider approval of the Stormont Executive for the port checks required by the NI Protocol, it was therefore “unlawful”.
It has now been confirmed by the Department of Environment, Agriculture and Rural Affairs (DAERA) that, as requested, they will refer the ongoing and future implementation of the protocol to the Executive Committee, which could see the minister stripped of any authority to act and potentially halt all checks in NI ports by the end of the month.
The UVPS, which is headed by Mr Bryson, claims it is now the duty of every unionist minister to utilise the cross-community mechanisms to block Executive authority for implementation of the protocol.
Speaking on Wednesday’s BBC Stephen Nolan Show, Mr Bryson said that Mr Poots will now have to bring a paper to the Executive seeking permission to continue the checks.
“So Edwin Poots, as a strategic move, will have to bring a paper to the Executive and say, ‘I have recognised my illegality and recognise the lack of ministerial authority to implement this and I am now asking the Executive to grant permission to continue the checks or if not the checks will have to stop’,” he said.
“And, of course the veto then works in favour of unionism, and of course unionists can veto the proposal.”
It was pointed out that if the UUP came in behind the DUP then it would be five votes each in the Executive.
Mr Poots told the BBC that his attempt to bring the paper to the Executive was “not a pre-election stunt.”
He said: “This is about a piece of work that we have been doing over the course of the last year in terms of mitigating the damage that has been done to Northern Ireland as a consequence of the protocol.
“The DUP’s opposition to the protocol isn’t something that is recent. It is not a stunt, it is for real.”
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson took to Twitter on Wednesday to welcome the report.
He tweeted: “This is a welcome contribution from Unionist Voice & @CatharineHoey (Baroness Kate Hoey) on opposition to the protocol and the harm that it does to our relationship with the rest of the UK.”
TUV leader Jim Allister also commended Mr Bryson on the move, branding it “better late than never” while accusing the DUP of “dithering” for the past year.
He said: “But, better late than never. The second issue which now arises — particularly given the dither and implementing of the last year — is: will the DUP commit to blocking this belated Poots’ request for protocol approval within the Executive and to do so without further prevarication and dither?”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that all ministers have a legal obligation to uphold the international agreement between the EU and the UK following Brexit.
“The latest claim that the DUP is set to launch an attempt to block the implementation of the protocol is yet another attempt to distract from the issues that really matter to people across the North,” he said.
“People are sick of constant machinations around the protocol, the majority of people here support it and want to benefit from the unique opportunities it offers.”
The Foyle MP said that there needs to be an immediate end to “distraction politics and manufactured crises that plague our politics”.
Alliance councillor Sorcha Eastwood pointed out that while the “protocol is not perfect and changes need to be made” it is, however, “not the priority for the public”.
“Those constantly threatening to collapse the Assembly need to step back, look at their actions and instead act in a sensible manner,” she said.
A spokesperson for Sinn Fein stated that the party will not support any approach which attempts to undermine existing Executive policy “or which seeks to depart from the rule of law and its statutory duty.”
“The protocol is in place to protect our people and businesses from the worst impacts of Brexit,” the spokesperson said.
A UUP spokesperson said: “We will wait until we see the paper from the Minister to the Executive. It would be unreasonable for us to comment on a paper we haven’t seen.”